Whether pure play or multichannel, online retailers have mushroomed and grown in sophistication. But who do the online retail experts rate as the best in class? Retail Week finds out.



Dave Hughes, director, M&S Direct: “The site recommends beauty samples suitable for particular user profiles. Users can then choose the ones they want, pay via their mobile phone and then review the products on the site. It’s a great concept because it uses different channels and encourages customer engagement and dialogue.”


Greg Suthern, COO, Dreams: “This is a great site that turns your photos into perfect-bound books of all shapes, sizes and styles. It has an easy-to-use application so you can create the book and upload the photos at the touch of a button. The site is slick, stylish, good value for money and most of all a doddle to use.” If you do not see the editor here, there are three possible reasons.


Tim Stacey, director, Boots.com: “The site is simple to navigate and interactive, and provides the ultimate combination of a high street shopping experience, coupled with an engaging editorial style. It has clearly put its mind to removing the barriers to customers buying fashion online and gives a tangible element to clothes.”


Mark Newton-Jones, chief executive,Shop Direct: “Because it’s guaranteed to get me back in my wife’s good books.”


Mark Hodgkinson, digital director, Asda: “This may not be a transactional site as such, because it’s a file sharing site, but my view is that we should find ways of embracing these business models. If you take Limewire, the last stats I saw, it was installed on 60% of PCs in the US - that’s 180 million consumers. This number of consumers can’t be wrong.”


Julian Granville, MD, Boden: “This isn’t a transactional site, but it’s a fantastic price comparison website. It’s simple, intuitive, worldwide and gives customers the best deal available incredibly quickly.”


Neil Clifford, chief executive, Kurt Geiger:“The best site by far for boring petrol heads like me.”


Graham Sim, marketing director, HMV: “This has a relaxed, almost indulgent feel to it, with little sense of a hard sell, which can encourage the visitor to stay and browse. It may not have to respond to the same commercial pressures of larger retail organisations, but it’s a refreshing site to visit all the same - an oasis of calm in a frantic online world.”


Christian Robinson, MD, Firebox: “UK retailers could learn a lot from this US online retailer. Rather than spend big marketing dollars, Tony Hsieh and his team invest in their unique culture and their customer relationships. It has embraced transparency and harnessed social media to create an incredibly engaged customer base.”


Sarah Curran, co-founder,My-wardrobe.com: “A fantastic selection of luxurious must-have beauty products within a well designed and easy-to-navigate site.”


Daniel King, general manager, Experian Hitwise:“This is the first site of its kind and lets you compare between the four major online supermarkets. It also uses all that consumer purchasing behaviour and provides real-time pricing data and shopping trend analysis back to marketers, brands and retailers.”


Julia Carrick, CEO, Walpole British Luxury:“Because of the breadth of product, ease of functionality and exquisite photography.”


Ryan Thomas, head of direct channels, Comet: “It’s very simple and quick to find the car that you are looking for and the mobile site is excellent. It is a perfect example of doing the simple things very well online.”


Aamir Ahmad, chief executive, Dwell: “This site lets users to design and upload T-shirt designs and users vote on the best designs, which get manufactured by the etailer and sold online. Here is a company that is totally centred on interaction with its customers - they generate all product designs and form the buying committee.”


Chris Rourke, MD of user xperience consultancy User Vision: “This is a really good example of a social shopping experience. Customers can create a profile expressing what wines they like and the site is personalised around this. The site has a slick purchase process but the key thing is that it provides a sense of community.”


Sally Bailey, chief executive, White Stuff:“It’s the perfect site for the time-poor who would love to trail around 100 different shops for lovely gifts but simply don’t have the time. Plus, the site is beautifully designed and I love the truly boutique feel.”


Grant Whiteside, technical director, search marketing agency Ambergreen: “This is a great bargain site with a huge breadth of merchandise at highly competitive prices. It has user reviews, good content, loads of photos and it ships to countries all over Europe and the US. It’s a site that really considers consumer experience.”


Andrew Hood, MD, Lynchpin: “Ikea has some great interactive visualisations for product selection, and has overcome the multichannel logistics challenges to really follow through for both online ordering and in-store. The in-store availability prediction based on sales trends is a great tool.”


Dom Fendius, MD, Stitsh.com: “This is a site that allows shoppers to buy from a range of independent boutiques in Europe. For the retailers it’s a perfect way to gain an online presence with international reach that they may not necessarily be able to achieve themselves.”


Miriam Lahage, CEO, Koodos: “I love this site. It’s one of the niche websites we work with to move its excess inventory. It carries stylish organic, fair trade, sustainable, recycled and vegan fashion. You can look good as you do good.”


Mark Henderson, chief executive, Gieves & Hawkes: “This site is outstanding - making the shopping experience easy and fun.It’s the only site I know that really puts the essence of the brand into the transactional site.”


Peter Fitzgerald, industry leader, retail, Google UK: “This site always seems to get better often in nuanced but delightful ways.”

Gary Mudie, IT and logistics director, Asos:“An easy-to-use site, well aligned to a variety of customer shopping styles. Everything continually improves.”


Kypros Kyprianou, group chief executive, Ryman Stationery: “What I like about Argos, as opposed to pure online retailers, is the flexibility to order a product online but collect it in-store. This enables me to get the product I want the same day, visit the local high street while at the same time seeing one of my stores as well as the competition.”


Jim Hodgkins, MD, Experian Marketing Services:“The retail website that most changed my life in the last year. I’m a fan of great membership models and this is a great one that has proved very disruptive to my music buying habits and should be commended as an affordable, legal music service.”


Richard Anson, co-founder and chief executive, Reevoo.com: “I love what Howies is doing. It is clearly focused on its niche (high-quality, longlife clothing) and manage to create a strong sense of community both online and in its catalogues, subtly encouraging them to buy. It feels natural, rather than contrived.”


Sarah McCartney, head of brand publications, Lush: “I am nuts about interesting stationery, fountain pens and writing in many colours of Diamine English fountain pen ink. The Writing Desk is run by a British couple who gave up the day job to run this specialist site. Love it to bits. I go there for a treat every now and again.”


Anne-Fay Townsend, senior trends analyst, the Future Laboratory
“It’s easy to dismiss Etsy as a ‘crafty eBay’ but the site is a dynamic shop window for the home-made and DIY movements, particularly those made up of women. It also throws up emergent and grassroots fashion trends.”


David Roth, CEO, The Store, WPP: “I’ve been a fan since it was a man, his wife and their dog. The early catalogues were the first of a new generation simply oozing with character and personality. It has transferred this easy, accessible approach to its website. Its after sales is quite extraordinary.”


Matthew Henton, director of marketing, eSpares:“This scores top marks for precise navigation, clarity of product information and helpful customer reviews. The checkout process is clear with a fantastic job on relevant cross-selling, which means that I can’t escape without a basket size that’s less than three items.”


Oliver Tress, MD, Oliver Bonas: “Crazy but genius. With her sparkling personality, Ling successfully paints herself as the honest David fighting against the dishonest Goliaths of the car leasing industry. She wins customers by building trust through energy, openness, warmth and ingenuity.”


Mike Altendorf, EMEA director, EMC Consulting:“This site offers customers a personalised and interactive journey. The site also runs author interviews, reviews and offers a helpful price comparison tool that gives the easy option to buy from Amazon if the price is cheaper.”


Jason Gissing, co-founder, Ocado: “Jeff Bezos is a visionary. He started out in finance before conquering the world with an amazing online retailing empire.”


Steve Borges, partner, Biglight Marketing:“It’s great to see features inspiring future development in ecommerce. Here an ‘express shop’ allows customers to add products to the basket directly from the product listings page and a ‘design your own’ section, where you can customise every aspect of your new boots.”


Gregory Hodge, research director, Planet Retail: “This site successfully displays products in a real life scenario, making shopping online for home furnishing simple for even the most unimaginative male. With its constantly changing content and the ability to search across a range of criteria, it’s great for buying presents.”


Nadia Jones, creative director, Oasis: “This creates both a unique and exhilarating experience. It offers the best in established and new international labels. The ‘Shop the Catwalk’ streams online footage of the seasons’ shows with an ability to click through and purchase. Its online lookbook also has buyers’ notes and top tips.”


David Kelly, CEO, Mydeco.com: “This fashion website is a very simple and massively engaging way of getting users to create content.”


Chris Frost, director of commercial, Lloydspharmacy: “The navigation on this sports equipment site is extremely easy and you can search and sort in a range of ways. The order tracking is easy. It also has a tally on how much you spend so the more you spend the greater the discount.”


Jonathon Brown, director of multichannel, B&Q: “It’s not strictly speaking transactional, but I think it should be listed because of the depth and relevance of local information, including shopping, that it provides. Its emails are always worth a scan with news, offers and promotions that get good click-through conversion.”


Mark Simpson, founder, Maxymiser: “A clean, easy to understand, straightforward experience that shows the products off to the best of their ability. Engagement levels are superb, with lots of reasons to come back after buying a product, such as video tutorials and so on. This creates a good deal of loyalty and opportunity for cross-selling.”


Justin Cook, chair, British Interactive Media Association: “I still love eBay for telling me that I have ‘won’ even though I’ve just bought some biodegradable bin liners.”


Rob Feldmann, CEO, BrandAlley: “Because of its simple but sleek design, wonderful search functionality, its quick and reliable room booking engine and the helpful editorial not only on hotels, but on places to visit and things to see and do in cities around the world.”


Martin Bartle, founder and MD, 270 Degree Marketing: “The Howell brand is instantly recognisable on this brand and ecommerce site - the purity of its design, use of colour and fonts to present a simple-to-use site is to
be admired.”


David Hathiramani, co-founder, Asuitthatfits.com: “It’s really easy to find product as it is filtered down into price, brand or specification. The prices are excellent and the service is efficient. Behind the scenes the systems that it has for tracking, support and invoicing are all very easy to use.”


John Werbinski, web manager, Links of London:“The product customisation on screen, supported with multiple views and high-quality zoom functionality, is almost perfect. Upload your designs to an online gallery for all to see or post direct to your social media networks, encouraging interaction and repeat visits.”


Kristof Fahy, vice-president, international marketing, Yahoo: “Matching the retail experience John Lewis has built on the high street and reproducing that online is a harder task than setting up a new online venture. It has managed to create an experience that matches that of its stores right down to the advice, delivery and returns policy.”


Cameron McLean, general manager for UK merchant services, PayPal: “With my wife and I having our first child in May, this is my current favourite UK site. I love the fact it offers customer reviews for all its products - particularly important for novice parents - and that it provides free delivery on all orders above £29.99.”

Retail Week’s Nominations


Charlotte Hardie, features editor: “A beautifully designed and yet practical site that would undoubtedly fuel anyone’s caffeine habit. It’s certainly not a case of style over substance and the fact it’s an online club makes you feel like a valued customer. Above all it offers the best customer service I have experienced.”


Martin Stabe, online editor: “Abebooks is a central database for a global network of independent antiquarian booksellers. It’s a bibliophile’s dream: the place to find everything from £10,000 first editions to battered reading copies of obscure academic texts at 50p.”


Joanna Perry, acting features editor: “The ultimate make-do-and-mend site. Not only does it make working out which spare part you need easy, it also provides help on how to fit parts and videos that show how to maintain your appliances. Changing the belt on a Dyson is one of my proudest achievements.”


Jennifer Creevy, news editor: “Nelly Duff sells exclusive limited editions and prints from some of the best street artists in the UK. While it stocks the big-name artists such as Banksy and Nick Walker, it also promotes up and coming artists such as Pure Evil and Sweet Toof.”